I thought the information I shared back to the resident may be of help to everyone to understand what is happening with service reviews and reasons why City Council goes into a closed session meeting to discuss certain issues.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of reasons why and in no way does this capture every nuance of the subject matter, but here it is anyways!
Have a good day,
“Good morning (name removed) and others,
Thank you for your questions and opinions (name removed). I will answer and give my own opinions in response:
1. The reason you, Council and every other citizen is reading about this (solid waste/blue cart) situation is because council unanimously voted to start service reviews within the city of Guelph. As you are well aware, this service review framework and policy has never been done before in this way. This is an excellent way of now showing the taxpayers that we take departmental reviews seriously, looking to identify opportunities to improve and/or for ways to confirm that our services are effective and efficient.
2. You are correct when you layout the choice before council for every in-camera item that council “may” or “may not” discuss within a closed session. It is laid out this way under the municipal act so that council must vote to discuss items allowed as exemptions under the act that would be of a “closed” nature. Staff or an individual member of council may recommend an item be in closed session, but it is ultimately up to all of council through a vote.
3. In this particular case the act is quite clear. Section 239 (b) and (d) states that council “can consider” in relation to “personal matters about an identifiable individual, including board employees and labour relations or employee negotiations.” Since the Solid Waste service review examines all aspects of the department, this will involve reviews of identifiable individuals or city employees and potential labour or union impacts. Therefore, the information given to council in closed session must only be focused about the above as outlined in section (b) and (d). Everything else must be done in open session. This is why there is an accompanying 48 page public report.
4. By outlining the above on an open and public agenda, by voting in open session to consider moving into closed session, by having an accompanied (48 page) open session report for this service review and by doing a brief verbal update of what was discussed (along with the outcome of a closed session discussion) done by the Mayor (or Chair) in open session – council is being transparent. Many of these steps I just outlined were not done during the previous administration and have only been implemented over the past three years. I am proud of these changes and I am constantly looking for more mays of making things happen in open session.
5. There can be consequences to not moving into closed session on some matters before the corporation. If council were to vote to not go into closed session and openly discuss identifiable individuals, board employees, or discuss union/labour negotiations, (and so on…) the corporation can be put in jeopardy of legal actions taken against the corporation. This could involve defamation, slander, libel or many other provincial labour legislation considerations. It then ultimately would be the Guelph taxpayers that would have to fund these legal issues, or any judgements that may arise if the corporation were to be found guilty. This is why each member of Council is obligated with protecting the integrity of staff within the public arena. We must also speak up in defence of staff when they are being ridiculed by others within an open form. Remember, ultimately a municipality may not be found guilty but the costs borne by the municipality in some cases to fight the allegations alone may be significant and these expenses may fall to the taxpayers. Beyond the potential legal risks, council believes in a respectful workplace environment where employee and employer relations are built on trust, adhering to contractual obligations and creating a culture where we can attract the best employees that ultimately serve Guelph residents.
6. I take closed matters seriously. I weigh them carefully before voting to go into closed session and I “police” or “oversee” the discussion within closed session seriously so that we stay within what the Act – and sections of what the Act allow us.
7. Lastly, it is important to note that over the last year, council has considerably less items go into closed session. In my opinion, this can be attributed to two things. The first is that the issue of district energy has now been dealt with. And second, our new CAO and executive team have made serious efforts to make as much as possible happen in open session because they are intent on making reports and discussions happen in the public realm.
Thank you again for your questions and opinions. I hope you continue to stay engaged on this and many further service reviews undertaken by the City of Guelph.
Mayor – City of Guelph